4 Nov 2017

Movie Review: Ittefaq: Sluggish, Half-Convincing Thriller

A bestselling writer Vikram Sethi (Sidharth Malhotra) is on the run for allegedly killing his wife. During the chase, his car overturns. Despite injuries, he manages to make a run to a flat, where he encounters Maya (Sonakshi Sinha). As the film begins we catch Vikram standing over a dead man at the house, Maya's husband.

The investigating cop Dev (Akshaye Khanna) is given three days to solve the case by his senior. Why? As Sethi is an NRI and UK citizen with connections, that is the time they have to keep him under custody. Soon Dev is embroiled in two versions of what happened on the night of the double murder. Vikram and Maya convincingly utter varied narratives to how the night unfolded. Who is telling the truth?

No Shred of Dread     
The refreshing thing about Ittefaq, it is not a lazy remake. This is a whole new premise, apart from retaining certain elements of the impressive, if flawed in bits, original Rajesh Khanna starer, Yash Chopra directorial Ittefaq (1969). New characters, new situations, and a whole new ending.

The itch here is the slow pace, the sheer lack of tension and texture for most of its running time. The first half feels stretched and rooted in unnecessary repetition. Somewhere in the final ten minutes, when a white car makes a speedy u-turn, the film fleetingly comes alive. Otherwise, there is no shred of dread or any touch of 'what will happen next' here.

Vikram is not an engrossing, intense character as Rajesh Khanna's mad, unpredictable, danger-oozing fugitive. He seems victimized and straight.That Sinha is off-note as the allegedly devious Maya doesn't help too. It is Akshaye Khanna as Dev who keeps us invested. Here is a character where a lot is intangible and seething beneath the supposedly calm surface.

Final Take   
Though the apt, late climax is part-impressive and decent, it is not watertight. Overall, Ittefaq has its moments, is good in bits and manages to end on a surprising note. It's not a top-notch thriller, but worth a watch.    

20 Oct 2017

Movie Review: Golmaal Again: Lots of Silliness, Lots of Juvenile Laughter!

There is always that one movie that uncannily brings everything that a director does best into a single riotous mesh. Golmaal Again is that Rohit Shetty movie.

Yes, Golmaal Again is juvenile, most of it doesn't make any sense. This is not classic, intelligent, insightful comedy. Yet, the Golmaal films have found a mass audience since 2006.

Golmaal Again appealed to a crazy, wacky, wild, kiddy, illogical part of my heart. Rohit Shetty's comedy genre is more like a David Dhawan film with less crassness and a distant hint of smartness.

Hindi Film Referencing 
The Golmaal franchise has never been about the story and this one is no different. It continues to be a series of humorous skits, playing one after another. Thanks to Shetty's story, dialogue writers Sajid-Farhad, a very wacky screenplay by Yunus Sajawal, and a cast that is so into each other, the laughter keeps coming.  

If you are a fan of the previous three Golmaal films, love Hindi movies on a whole, right from the mediocre eighties, have seen Hindi horror classics like Woh Kaun Thi (1964) and Gumnaam (1965), and like Nana Patekar 90's monologues, you will laugh even louder in recognition.

The much-repeated emotional ghost revenge angle is so "yawn". The song picturizations are also passe, the loud background music is a big downer. The saga of incoherent plots and Rohit Shetty continues here. But when Shetty mines one joke after another here with stubborn earnestness, the flaws are temporarily pushed to the background. 

Everybody from all the first three Golmaal movies gets their fun moments here, except for Sharman Joshi, mysterious cast absentee since Golmaal: Fun Unlimited (2006).

Watch Kunal Khemu rush up painted steps, Ajay Devgn is sporting in self-mockery and nails the spooked up look, Arshad Warsi cracks up in mischief, Shreyas Talpade belts out a hilarious lullaby, Tusshar Kapoor reprises his most memorable character, and Johnny Lever crackles in parts, watch out for the Hyderabadi air hostess act. Tabu, the fine actress that she is, makes most of the only funny finale sequence she gets. Parineeta Chopra, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Prakash Raj, Mukesh Tiwari, and Vrajesh Hirjee are competent and spot on.

Best watched on the big screen. I caught up Golmaal Again at Victory Theatre, Pune this morning with an audience of teenagers, families, young and old and everyone went away clapping, whistling and hooting. 

Clean, nonsensical and uproarious comedy, not necessarily clever! But I am not complaining.      

19 Oct 2017

Movie Review: Secret Superstar: Great Intentions, Good Treatment

Fifteen-year-old Insia (Zaira Wasim) lives with her mother Najma (Meher Vij), a little brother Guddu (Kabir), a lovely grandmother and an abusive, short-tempered father Farookh (Raj Arjun). Insia loves making her own songs on the guitar while warding off her classmate Chintan's (Tirth Sharma) obvious interest in her.

Insia's father resents Zaira's bent to music. Her mother stands by her. After her mother gifts her a laptop and Internet dongle, Zaira posts her first song video on YouTube clad in a burkha under the name 'Secret Superstar'. As she gains anonymous fame,  infamous music director Shakti Kumaarr notices her. Meanwhile, Insia's dominating father plans to move with the family to Saudi Arabia and marry off Insia. Desperate for her freedom, Insia takes some bold steps.

Taare Zameen Par 2.0?  
There are many parallels to Amole Gupte and Aamir Khan's Taare Zameen Par (2007) and Secret Superstar. Though the latter doesn't deal with autism, both films feature the main child protagonist with daddy issues and creative streaks.

The mom quotient is propelled as the main draw in Secret Superstar, it featured in a prominent song in Taare Zameen Par. Aamir Khan features as a helping friend/angel here too. Both films feature receiving awards as the character's culmination. Emotions are placed out as audience manipulators in both movies. But there is more to Secret Superstar.  

Mommy-Daughter Vibes   
Najma and Insia's relationship has engaging complex literature webs.Insia calling her mother foolish, stupid to her face for taking in her father's abuse is a nice touch. Najma's unsung heroics is effectively understated. She is easily connectable as what Indian mothers go through, not that everyone's trapped in an abusive marriage.

Insia's teenage angst makes a mark because of Wasim's steely interpretation. In her second outing, Zaira Wasim has all the marks of a great actress. Watch Insia slur before her dad's stern queries, her wall-punching anger, mom-daughter outburst, class act.

Pre-Teen Romance, Sibling Revelry, Star Presence 
The Chintan-Insia kiddy love story has its vibes, though it sometimes feels filmy convenience. Guddu (Kabir Sajid) as Insia's little brother is a crackling minimally used character. Aamir Khan's Shakti Kumaarr seems contrived at the start. Despite some miss, some hit parts, Khan's character gives us great laughs in the second half.

The Amit Trivedi Impact 
Secret Superstar wouldn't have the same 'yearning to be free' impact if not for Amit Trivedi's wonderful, apt soundtrack. The songs may not necessarily be chartbusters. But in 16-year-old Meghna Mishra's vocals, Trivedi finds a great groove and cultivates our empathy for Insia. Main Kaun Hoon, Meri Pyari Ammi, and Nachdi Phira are crucial to the film's storyline, elevating audience-character connect.

On, Off Treatment   
Cinematography and sound design seems lazy here, as is the film's dependence on performances to instill engagement in many scenes. The prolonged climax with the mother repeating her daughter's words, the award function finale, the Shakti Kumaarr flirt angle, would seem all stilted, but for the performances.

Zaira Wasim's wonderful, unaffected turn is ably supported by Meher Vij, Aamir Khan, and Raj Arjun. Tirth Sharma and Kabir Sajid deserve special mention for their performances. Meher Vij is singularly terrific and understated as the abuse-battling mother. Khan is clearly having fun here, though the writing lets him down at times. Raj Arjun is effective as a father, not ending up as a one-tone villain. He deftly conveys the shadow of long-working-hours and a male dominant tradition, in ways you can easily miss.

Great Intent, Decent Execution 
Secret Superstar didn't completely win me over, but several moments are strong, genuinely affecting, true-to-life and inspiring. From celebrating adolescence, innocence, aspirations and girl power to holding a mirror to domestic violence and marriage dynamics, there is enough to take away here. It skillfully keeps star presence and religion to the background.

Despite the 150-minute running time, Secret Superstar has enough going for it to make it a good, if not overwhelming, Diwali family movie pick at the theaters. Some very pertinent questions are asked here.